Pakistan China Air Exercises Why The Iconic F-16 is Missing From The Line-Up
On December 9, China and Pakistan began their ninth joint air force exercises. This iteration of the Shaheen-IX (eagle) air exercises, which began in the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF’s) newest airbase in Bholari, Sindh, and featured 50 fighter aircraft, are believed to be the most complicated so far in the decade since the two countries began the exercises to enhance defence cooperation. That the exercises come during a military stand-off between India and China in eastern Ladakh is the reason why it will be closely monitored by the India Air Force (IAF). The exercise includes the PAF JF-17s, Mirage-IIIs and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force J-10 and J-11s heavy fighters.
Missing from the line-up, though, as they have been in every iteration of the exercise, was the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 fighter aircraft. This might seem surprising because Bholari, commissioned in 2017, is Pakistan’s third F-16 base. The US-built single-engine fighter is one aircraft Chinese pilots might want to match their skills against since they are in service with the South Korean and Taiwanese air forces. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF’s) J-10 itself is widely believed to be a copy of an F-16 copy—a Chinese built version of Israel’s F-16 copy, the ‘Lavi’ fighter jet. For Pakistan to deploy F-16s in these exercises, however, would mean violating end-user agreements that Pakistan signed with the US when it bought the aircraft. A breach of these agreements could potentially lead to the cancellation of US’s echnical support to Pakistan’s F-16 program.